Bollywood producers – specially the film studios – have reached a consensus that no special shows should be arranged for film critics. Producers seem to have realised that a section of film critics bash a film as clickbait to get more visitors on their websites.
Since the first three days of business makes or breaks a Bollywood film, producers feel that giving critics access to the film’s content before its official release is no less than harakiri.
Besides, at least one of the studios have pointed out, that shutting down the critics may create a marketing opportunity where favourable film reviews can be planted before the critics come up with their reviews.
Most of the big producers don’t show their film before its release but a small number of them still continue to host film screenings for critics where they are served with free popcorn and samosa. A few of them even serve lunch or dinner during these special previews.
The reason for scrapping Thursday evening press shows dates back to 2007 when Yashraj decided to scrap the system of showing the film to a critic on Thursdays. These days Yashraj organises the press show around 10 am on Friday and by the time a reviewer actually finishes the review, the film has already completed at least two public shows.
The reason was, as a former senior executive of Yashraj puts it, “There were some critics who came to the previews with an agenda and some of them were plants by rival producers. It didn’t make sense to let a bunch of critics spread negativity about the film even before its release. We heard that the decision to stop Thursday screenings came from Aditya Chopra himself and he had a bloody good point.”
Other producers didn’t take a cue immediately and Bollywood continued to show their films to critics on Thursdays (even before Thursday in certain cases) for a favourable review. They kept getting disappointed but did nothing to stop the practice.
The issue of critics unnecessarily bashing the film before release again started gathering steam during November last year when a Hollywood film studio operating in India decided not to show their film to the critics at all.
The decision by Fox Star Studio to not screen Salman Khan starrer Prem Ratan Dhan Payo for the critics at all was a major diversion from hosting a screening on Friday morning. When officially asked to explain their decision, Fox Star clarified that they had indeed made it their policy but didn’t say why. The strict no-press-show policy was again imposed during the release of Kapoor and Sons.
Both the film were super hits.
So, I called up a former studio boss (of another Film Studio and not Fox Star) to understand if there is something more to what meets the eye and it turned there was actually a marketing plan behind shutting out critics.
“Let’s make this thing clear first that a film is our property and it is upto us whether we want to grant you access to the content before I release it for the public. If you look at a film like a product then no product is released to the critics before it is officially released. The product is only available to those critics whom the company trusts (Read: those who are paid to write good reviews). It’s a part of a marketing plan. That way, I am not only blocking access to negative reviews for a time period, I am also creating some space for positive reviews to boost my sales,” the former top executive said.
Get the point now? Ensuring that film critics don’t have access to a film also means that the company creates an unofficial demand for the review on a Friday morning. There will be surge of traffic on the internet to know how the film has turned out. Now, release a few good reviews or carefully balanced reviews. There, you are ensuring that your opening is not affected.
“Today, the film’s business depends on the opening. Nobody wants to ruin the product’s marketability by showing it to a critic who we know will bash the film. Better hire a critic to get a good review and make it a part of the marketing strategy,” the top executive added.
This sudden regulation of access to a film has created a disgruntled group of critics who literally can’t do anything about the fact that when he is finally able to publish his review online, it is already crowded by the studio hired critics who have set the tone for the day. This has given rise to intense competition and pressure among reviewers to get their review out there first. This pressure has slowly started corrupting a section of the reviewers.
Sample this. A few weeks back a PR was stunned when she saw a couple of reviews of her film online.
“I am certain that the film was not shown anywhere else in India before Friday. On Thursday afternoon, I had organised a special show in Mumbai where a few reviewers were invited. Since that was the only press show in the whole country, I greeted everybody personally at the theatre gates. I was well aware who would come up with the reviews first. But late on Thursday night, there were two reviewers who had published their reviews but were not there at the press screening. I called one of them and asked where he watched the film. He tried to skirt the question first When I pressed for an answer, he admitted that he hadn’t seen the film at all but had gathered the ‘inputs’ from his friends who had seen the film in the preview show. He argued that he had just put out 200 words out on the website and it was a positive review. He admitted that he was under pressure from his editor to get the review out there even though he hadn’t watched the preview. I told him that he has lost his integrity,” the PR said.
A bunch of reviewers are also apparently scouring the internet for pirated versions of the film so that they can get the review out there first.
This is another reason why more producers and studios will join the forces to bar a film critic from accessing the film before its official public release.